Just because I’m an “innovation guy”, doesn’t mean that I can: 1) wear red underwear over blue tights like Superman or 2) try to reinvent everything. The art of innovation is also knowing when and how to use what already exists. I was recently advising a startup founder with a grand vision for a new kind of tech education for corporate employees. I agreed that he was onto something…but he was trying to slice strawberries with a chainsaw. (I prefer an axe.) His efforts were stalling as he wooed major players in the category for support. Having worked with lots of large companies, I know getting one company to buy in can be slower than tweezing Alec Baldwin smooth; getting multiples is like re-implanting each follicle. So this entrepreneur was stuck with a big idea that might take forever to coordinate and millions to build. He also lacked a clear plan for getting customers…whose demand for the product was far from guaranteed. Yes, he had it all. There was a better way – and it meant thinking small.
Here are a few things I suggested to him (at least the ones I can share):
Now that I’m mired in the startup world, I thought I’d have a little fun with pictures.
So what do you think?
As a journalism student at NYU, I remember my immigrant dad interrogating me suspiciously about a profession he couldn’t possibly understand. He asked me the kinds of questions you’d expect from an engineer who just risked everything to drag his family out of the Soviet Union. “How will you make money?” he’d ask in his thick Russian accent. “What kind of (stupid) job is writing?” He would have been more proud if I majored in mink skinning or Zamboni maintenance. Slowly, he chipped away at me until I gave up my journalistic dream. For the past 10 years, it seemed like my dad’s fresh-off-the-boat wisdom paid off. I was having a successful career in business while the field of paid journalism looked like Courtney Love circa 5 a.m. – a hot mess.
Hyper-connected tech blogger Robert Scoble, recently wrote about treating startups more critically. Robert found himself meeting with lots of crappy, over-funded, digital startups that desperately need more time in the oven, an intervention by Dr. Drew, or more likely, Dr. Kevorkian. (My words, not Robert’s.) Not only am I seeing the same things, but I’d take it a step further. I believe this current crop of entrepreneurs might actually be hurting America - and perverting the very idea of innovation in the same way Beyonce’s Run The World is like kicking Aretha Franklin in the ribs…repeatedly. All is not lost. There are ways to take advantage of this situation, though it’s way too late to save this song:
I recently read a scathing review of several new services offering free or nearly free phone calls over the internet. Assuming you get past the fact that this mystery has already been solved, the mere existence of these services raises a few confounding questions:
- Why would anyone design such bufoonish, overly technical services?
- What kind of uber-geeky cheapskates are they targeting? Who in their right mind would take that many steps to make a phone call? We live in a world of free off-peak mobile minutes, Skype, and $24 per month unlimited VOIP service.
- Finally, after sitting through the ponderous description of how these services work, what venture capitalist would have funded these unintuitive, consumer repellent services?